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Lucy Goodale Thurston - Missionary to Hawaii

Updated on May 16, 2012

Imagine saying goodbye to all your family and the only home you've ever known, sailing on the untamed seas of the Atlantic around Cape Horn to the Pacific, and landing at an uncivilized nation on the most isolated land mass on earth, all with a husband you've only recently met. That is exactly what Lucy Goodale Thurston did when she decided to leave her home and travel across the world to help her husband as a missionary bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Hawaii.

It was a time when traveling to Hawaii meant saying goodbye to your family, most likely forever, but Lucy did it. It was a time when New England was the cultural center of America, but Lucy left it. It was a time when Hawaii was known for immorality and vice, but Lucy went willingly. All for love.


Lucy Goodale was born October 29, 1795, was raised in the Christian faith, and was well-educated to become a school teacher. Although life was not always perfect (her mother died when Lucy was still a young woman), she enjoyed her life and friends in Massachusetts. But after her sister Persis married and moved away, Lucy suffered a great loneliness. She sought to know what God's will was for her life, and she felt restless, knowing that earth was only her temporary home.

Asa and Lucy Thurston
Asa and Lucy Thurston | Source

Then in 1819, the time came for Lucy to make the most important decision of her life. A missionary team was forming with the intention of dedicating their lives to the a people and place they had only heard about. But there was a pressing need for the designated missionaries to be married. Through the connection of Lucy's cousin, Asa Thurston, recently out of seminary, was introduced with the sole purpose of aligning a marriage. In the days previous to the first meeting when she was to meet the stranger who sought her hand in marriage, Lucy couldn't eat or sleep, but eventually found a peace and a willingness to do whatever she was called to do.


With the blessing of her family (who left the decision completely up to her), Lucy met Asa in her father's home. He was a stranger, but he left that night a friend. The next day, they were engaged to be married. A little over two weeks later on October 12, Asa and Lucy vowed themselves to each other for life. Two weeks later they were at sea. They spent almost fifty years together, bringing the Good News to the Hawaiians and raising their children in a far-off land.

Anything but Paradise

Hawaii to many today means vacation and paradise on earth. But back before the missionaries arrival in 1820, Hawaii was an uncivilzed, immoral society. Asa and Lucy Thurston looked forward to a culture governed by the kapu system, which was a strict set of rules which separated royalty from commoners and abased and belittled women. Capital punishment was enacted for petty crimes such as a woman eating a banana (which was only for men). There were also tales of infanticide and sexual immorality and even rumors of cannibalism. The only travelers to Hawaii before the missionaries were sailors, merchants, adventurers. No one thought to bring their families to this remote place on the other side of the world.

Read more first-hand accounts of missionaries...

Little did the Thurstons know, as they sailed out of Boston on October 23, 1819, that the government and kapu system were being abolished around the same time. King Kamehameha had died, leaving his son Liholiho to rule the nation. Together with the high priest, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) abolished the kapu and the idolatrous religion, realizing that they had kept their religion merely out of tradition and not out of faith. Hewahewa the priest was the first to start the fires that burned the relics and temples. The field was sown and waiting for the harvesters to arrive.


After 157 days at sea and 18,000 miles, the ship Thaddeus came within sight of Hawaii. The company aboard consisted of the Thurstons, another missionary and his wife (the Binghams), a doctor and his wife (the Holmans), two teachers and their wives (the Whitneys and the Ruggleses), a printer and his wife (the Loomises), a farmer and his wife and five children (the Chamberlains), and three natives who had been somewhat educated in the States and were returning home.

The missionaries were greeted by the natives paddling out in canoes, bringing gifts of tropical fruit with them. They were scarcely clothed, and what clothing they did wear was made out of fibers from bark. Lucy told of her first encounter with the people of Hawaii:

As I was looking out of a cabin window, to see a canoe of chattering natives with animated countenances, they approached and gave me a banana. In return I gave them a biscuit. "Wahine maikai," (good woman) was the reply. I then threw out several pieces, and from my scanty vocabulary said, "Wahine," (woman.) They with great avidity snatched them up and again repeated, "Wahine maikai."

Thus, after sailing eighteen thousand miles, I met, for the first time, those children of nature alone. Although our communications by look and speech were limited, and simple, friendly pledges received and given, yet that interview through the cabin window of the brig Thaddeus gave me a strengthening touch in crossing the threshold of the nation.

First Impressions

The missionaries and their religion were overwhelmingly welcomed by the royalty. The queen dowager Kalakua (one of Kamehameha's twenty-one wives) even requested the white ladies to make her a dress in the fashion of their own. The people of Hawaii were not malicious as was thought, and what vice they did have took the shape of polygamy and drunkenness, although there were some cases of infanticide.

The king permitted the missionaries to stay at least a year and provided the Thurstons and the Holmans with a thatched hut in Kailua (on the Big Island) while the rest of the ship's party sailed on to Honolulu (on Oahu). This hut consisted of one room, two open-air windows, and a floor made of grass and mats. Sitting on their trunks in the bare hut, the Christians held the first family worship service in Hawaii.

Thus, Asa and Lucy Thurston found themselves in a strange and foreign land, with only the bare necessities. They would have to overcome the barriers of language, culture, and climate. The situation was so uncomfortable that the other missionary family, the Holmans, left within a few months to go back to their native land. The Thurstons were left the sole missionary family on the Big Island.

Moku'aikaua Church, established by the Thurstons
Moku'aikaua Church, established by the Thurstons | Source


The Thurstons got to work at once with their mission. Asa preached and began teaching the royalty how to read. In the first weeks, the missionaries were treated as curiosities and hardly ever had a private moment. Lucy and the other women on board the Thaddeus were the first white women ever seen on the islands.

Within two years of the arrival of the missionaries, a written language was created for the Hawaiian people so they could read and write in their own tongue. After a few years of moving around, the Thurstons settled down in Kailua and established a congregation there.

The culture of Hawaii drastically changed in those first years. For once, the Hawaiians heard of a God who actually cared for them and who wasn't changeable with whims of the moment. The people heard of Jesus Christ in their own language, and He turned their lives around. Both Asa and Lucy cared for the people of Hawaii, teaching them to read and write, to love the God who made them, to live righteous lives. The Hawaiians responded with hearts softened and made willing. The last remnants of the system of idolatry were destroyed, and the hearts of the people were turned to the One True God.

Trials and tribulations

Lucy Thurston gave up all the comforts of a modern home in New England for a completely different life in the remote places of the world. For many years, Lucy suffered pulmonary illness without the convenience of medicine and doctors that would have been readily at hand on the mainland. She gave birth to her children thousands of miles away from any hospital. With the firmness of faith, she raised five children in a godless land, determined that they would belong to God. She gave her life to her husband, to the Gospel, to Hawaii.

In Conclusion

Lucy Goodale Thurston was used as a beautiful tool in bringing Christianity to Hawaii. Despite all odds, she led her life with courage and determination to do the right thing, even when that meant sacrificing everything she had ever known and loved. In later years, Lucy was able to travel back to the land she had thought she left forever. But she only went home to visit. To her dying day, she lived in Hawaii, her adopted home. With her life she was able to minister to the people of Hawaii, witnessing the most beautiful transformation of their lives. In her own words:

"The Word of God is powerful. I have lived to see both sides of the picture. I saw this neglected portion of our race, groping along in all darkness of nature, listening to messages from heaven with indifference and contempt, and for a long time hearing as though they heard not. Man can speak only to the ear. I looked again, and a secret energy was transforming their moral characters. Those very beings who were once bowing down to stocks of wood and stone, worshiping sharks and volcanoes, and slaves to all the sins which degrade human nature, are now sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning and doing his will."


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    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Patricia, it is so wonderful to hear from one of Lucy's descendants! That is wonderful that you have been compiling her letters! Thank you also for your kind correction - I appreciate it :) Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

      Hello William, it's so good to hear from you! Thank you for reading - enjoy reading more about your ancestors!

    • profile image

      Patricia Godfrey 6 years ago

      Hello, I am a descendant of Lucy's. I am finishing up a book of her letters.

      This is a nice article: would you mind one small corrction? It was the Holmans, not the Binghams, who left the Thurstons on Hawaii island and returned to America within a few years. The Binghams went to Honolulu and remained there for 21 years.


    • profile image

      William Thurston 6 years ago

      I'm going to have to barrow my mothers book after looking at this I'm suddenly interested in my ancestors history.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      Memry, I really think it is fascinating, too, and if you want to read more, you should definitely check out Lucy's book (there's an Amazon link above). Hawaii misses you too :)

    • profile image

      Memry 7 years ago

      This is a great bio on this little known missionary to Hawaii. Fascinating stuff. I know I wouldn't have been so brave. Keep informing us, we love to hear about Hawaii, we miss it so!!

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      Eiddwen, thank you for your visit! It is much appreciated.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

      What an interesting and well written hub. Thank you so much for sharing. Take care Rose.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      sheila, thank you for reading! I can't either :)

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      This was very interesting. I can't imagine being so brave.

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Jane, Lucy really was an amazing woman, and learning about her life makes me wonder if I could have been so brave. I really don't know if I could make such a leap of faith as she did. Yet God rewarded her greatly.

      I read Lucy's own account of her life (see the Amazon link above). It was very interesting, though a little dry and straightforward. Definitely a good read if you want to hear about Hawaii's missionaries from one of their own!

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      Hi Jeff, thank you for reading! The history of Hawaii is very interesting, especially since it is so different from the rest of America. Thanks for your rating!

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 7 years ago from Oregon

      We need more women like Lucy Thurston, who "see beyond the grave." To think that she was willing to commit her life to a near stranger in order to further the gospel! The modern world has trouble understanding this kind of commitment to God's Word. I think many of us suffer from a namby-pamby nit picky disorder when it comes to deciding on a spouse. Though it is a big decision, it is not one made outside of faith. Lucy had the faith to see God working through her authorities and the circumstances she was put into, and it sounds like they had a great marriage as well as a thriving witness in Hawaii! Thanks for this great article; you really did a lot of research. Is there a book you'd recommend for reading more about the Thurstons?

    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 7 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Interesting stuff. I know very little about the history of Hawaii, and now I want to learn more. Voted up!


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